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UCI Medical Center Fined $1.2 Million in Whistleblower Case

UPDATED: The payment follows a U.S. Justice Department investigation of problems in the hospital's anesthesiology department. UCI responds.

The University of California Board of Regents has agreed to pay $1.2 million to resolve a whistleblower lawsuit alleging inadequate supervision in the use of anesthesia at UC Irvine Medical Center, an attorney said Wednesday.

The agreement to pay the fines follows a multiyear U.S. Justice Department investigation triggered by a 2008 lawsuit by Dr. Dennis O'Connor, an anesthesiologist and former UCI professor.

The suit alleged that, in violation of federal regulations, anesthesia was routinely administered at UCI by nurse anesthetists or residents when there was no supervisory anesthesiologist present, according to a statement by Louis J. Cohen, an Agoura Hills attorney who represents O'Connor.

The complaint further alleged that, in many instances, the supervisory anesthesiologist was in a completely different building and records were falsified to make it appear he was present, O'Connor said.

Moreover, post-operative evaluations were routinely performed by unsupervised or unlicensed medical residents in violation of federal regulations, increasing the likelihood of missing post-operative complications, Cohen said.

The Justice Department based its claims against UCI on the contention it submitted claims for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for inadequately performed anesthesiology services.

For his troubles as a whistleblower, O'Connor is to collect $120,000 of the $1.2 million being paid to the federal government by UCI, Cohen said.

UCI Healthcare released the following statement:

"In 2008, new leadership took over and transformed the UC Irvine Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care. It conducted a top-to-bottom review of the department's operations and enacted new training, policies and practices to guide clinical faculty and staff. New positions such as anesthesia safety officer were created to ensure compliance.

"The department now uses an electronic record-keeping system that does not permit the practices alleged. It remains committed to the highest standards of patient care. The settlement agreement between the University of California Regents and the United States is not an admission of liability. The regents deny all claims."

To read more about the pre-2008 troubles in UCI's anesthesiology department, click here and here.

-- City News Service and Patch staff

George V. Kent March 27, 2013 at 05:52 PM
Another scandal. Will it ever end?
Gail Neuman March 27, 2013 at 07:08 PM
This hospital needs totally new administration because they have 1 scandal after another. I would be afraid to be a patient there. However, I am pretty sure that nurse-anesthetists don't need to be supervised any more by a physician.
George V. Kent March 28, 2013 at 03:09 PM
Depending on the duration and complexity of the surgery. For instance open heart, or prolonged surgeries on high risk patients. On the general subject, it is amazing how UCI Medical School has not cleaned up it's act after all these years of scandals. And it does not have same academic reputation as UC San Diego Med. School which was established later. And the relationship with the medical community is poor.
Rossmoor Resident March 29, 2013 at 03:26 AM
According to the article, these problems occurred prior to 2008, under different management. Why punish the current managers for the errors of their predecessors?
Aaron Vincent March 29, 2013 at 03:58 PM
I feel sorry for seeing UCI doctors. I was seen a small skin acne for 3 minutes and was prescribed a common antibiotic. Later I received a bill of $300. My insurance company refused to pay and it ended up I had to pay for it. I will never step into UCI building again, ever!

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